January 31, 2024 | By Doppelt and Forney

People who wish to legally end their marriage in California must institute divorce proceedings by filing a petition for dissolution. For many years, the petitioner or their attorney had to file paper petitions, either in person or by mail. Recently, though, some California Courts have opened up for E-filing in family law matters, including divorces.

While parties can E-file divorce action pro se, it is not recommended, as they may not understand the procedural or pleading requirements and could inadvertently waive important rights. Although the number of divorces filed electronically increased due to the pandemic, the ease and convenience of E-filing likely means that it will continue to rise in popularity in the years ahead.

If you are interested in divorcing your spouse, you should contact a skilled San Diego divorce attorney to discuss whether E-filing may be appropriate for you.

California Laws Regarding E-Filing

Under the California Rules of Court 8.70 and California Supreme Court Rules relating to electronic filing, certain legal documents can be made via the Courts’ electronic filing systems. Since May 2020, the San Diego Superior Court has permitted E-Filing in Family Law matters.

In other words, both attorneys and individuals can file documents with the Court without going to the Courthouse or mailing hard copies. In California, E-filing is done via Odyssey eFileCA, a website that allows parties to open cases and E-file pleadings at any time and from any location. E-filing streamlines the process of filing documents, benefiting both the Courts and the parties.

Filing an E-Divorce

To begin an E-divorce, the party must draft a petition for dissolution in accordance with California law. In other words, either the filing party or their spouse must be a resident of the state for at least six months prior to the filing of the petition. They must also indicate what issues they want the Court to decide, like property division, child custody and support, and spousal support.

They will then upload the petition and any other necessary documents and file them through Odyssey eFileCA, along with any associated fees. Once the documents have been filed, they will be delivered to the Court. The Court Clerk will then review the documents and decide whether to accept them or return them to the filing party to be corrected. If the Clerk accepts the documents, they will issue an electronic timestamp to indicate when they were filed.

Serving Parties in E-Filed Cases

While the service of the initial filing must be done in person, subsequently E-filed documents can be served electronically on the parties in the case through e-mail. This not only allows parties to serve pleadings in an expedient manner, but it also avoids confusion regarding whether a pleading was delivered or when, as parties can track when a filing was received and opened.

Completing an E-Divorce

Notably, the procedural rules that apply to divorce actions generally apply to E-filed divorces as well. This means, in part, that after the filing and service of the petition, both parties must abide by the Standard Family Law Restraining Orders. These orders dictate, among other things, that the parties cannot hide or give away property or assets, change the beneficiary designations on their insurance policies, or transport any children they share custody of out of the state.

Additionally, once a party E-files a petition for dissolution and serves the pleading on their spouse, the responding spouse has thirty days to file a response. If they respond, they can address the allegations and assertions in the petition and offer their input into how the Court should decide the matters before it. If they fail to respond within thirty days, though, the filing party can request that the Court file a default, which essentially means that the Court can decide any issues without your involvement.

If the parties already have a written agreement regarding how matters should be resolved, they can seek a default with agreement. Essentially, this means that the filing party will submit the agreement to the Court along with the petition for dissolution, and the responding party will take no action, after which the Court will consider the agreement in issuing its ruling.

If the responding party files a response, the parties must then gather and share their financial information. While parties may be reluctant to disclose their financial information, it is required by law. A full and accurate disclosure helps determine issues such as whether there is any marital property that needs to be divided and whether child or spousal support is warranted.

The parties then have an opportunity to decide how debts and property should be divided, how custody of their children should be shared, and whether either party is owed child or spousal support. If they cannot come to an agreement on these issues, the Court will decide them. Regardless of how any disputed issues are ultimately resolved, the parties must complete a final order, known as a judgment, and other forms and submit them to the Clerk of Courts. They will then be reviewed by a Judge, and if everything is in order, the Judge will sign the judgment, and the divorce will be final.

Security of E-Filings

While some people may be concerned that their information will be compromised if they file a divorce action electronically, E-filing is secure. California’s E-filing system abides by applicable federal and state regulations and meets the Payment Card Industry Security Standards instituted to protect information regarding the filer and the transaction.

Talk to a Seasoned California Family Law Attorney

The decision to end a marriage can be difficult. Once the decision is made, though, E-filing allows parties to begin their divorce proceedings in an efficient and discrete manner. If you intend to end your marriage or were recently served with legal papers instituting a dissolution proceeding, it is smart to confer with an attorney regarding your rights.

The seasoned San Diego family law attorneys of Doppelt and Forney APLC are adept at handling divorce matters, and if we represent you, we will help you to pursue your desired result. You can contact us via our online form or by calling us at 800-769-4748 to set up a free and confidential conference.